In all my years as a sports physiotherapist, I’ve had to patch up thousands of skin issues in athletes. It was my job to look after cuts, blisters, chafing, grazes, minor cuts & burns – as well as ensure I picked the right lotions, potions, oils, creams and rubs allowing athletes to perform when it counted.
When I was a young physio, I thought it would all be about backs, knees and hamstrings, however, I found myself looking after, and thinking about the skin in sport all the time. Even while performing massage I was thinking about the skin. How much traction on the skin do I need? Is that spot skin cancer? Is this cream going to allow the skin to breathe? All questions that regularly went through my head.
Now, some 25 years into my sports skin care journey I’d like to impart some of my understanding and experience with 5 tips.
- Get the coefficient of friction right
Sometimes skin needs to slip, sometimes grip – and it’s important that athletes prepare for what they need. Weightlifters, rowers, tennis players and golfers need to have dry hands for effective grip, so a drying agent or chalk will help. Endurance athletes however are often troubled with blisters and chafing, so getting some ‘slip’ in the right areas such as between the toes, heels, inner thighs and nipples can prevent the breakdown of skin tissue. When you get grip when it should slip, or slip when it should grip it usually results in blisters or chafing.
- Wear SPF
If you regularly exercise outdoors, you’re more likely to develop premature skin ageing and skin cancer, so please wear a dry and light sunscreen that allows your skin to breathe. Clothing that filters UV, hats, visors and sunglasses as well please. I know so many athletes in their 30’s and beyond who wish they took better care of their skin in their younger sporting days – so get started now on protecting your skin from the sun if not already.
Q: When do you need protection?
A: A UV index of 3 or more.
- Prepare your skin for optimal thermoregulation
Most people think of skin as a ‘beauty organ’. Read Marie Claire or Vogue and it’s all about reducing fine lines, youthfulness and glow. The skin however is a performance organ in sport, and it has a crucial role in maintaining optimal core temperature. Evaporation of sweat from the skin is the primary way the body regulates temperature and if you have the wrong clothing, or oils/creams/lotions in your skin you’ll quickly overheat and performance will suffer. My advice is to plan for the day – check the forecast, make sure you have clothing for any changes in conditions, and choose your apparel and sports skin care products wisely.
- Get rid of stale sweat
For two reasons. The first is – it can stink! Sweat has no odour, however when sweat encounters bacteria body odour can result. The second is that the level of bacteria on the skin rises after exercise and if there’s any breach of the skin (such as chafing, blisters, or wounds) the chance of infection increases. Skin infections result in lengthy times out of sport and even require surgery (click here to read about Peter Sagan’s nightmare at last year's Tour de France). My tip is to shower after exercise as soon as possible, paying particular attention to areas of damaged skin and the natural ‘folds’ in the body such as the armpits, groin and feet/toes. If you can’t get to a shower, wipe down with wipes or damp cloth.
- Protect your skin from the wind
Being exposed to the wind can cause the outer layer of the skin to weaken, with superficial skin cells sloughing off leaving newer, younger skin exposed to UV radiation. A study in the British Journal of Dermatology showed that rats exposed to UV radiation and wind developed more skin cancer than those exposed to UV radiation alone. So, as much as possible, reduce the time you spend exercising in windy conditions, cover up as much as you can. If you are training in windy conditions be sure to use Premax Weather Defence Facial Cream and Warm Up Cream Formula EP5 on exposed areas. Both these products provide a protective barrier and moisturisation to skin exposed to the wind.